Written by: Ben Peck
Monday, 24 August 2009

With thanks: International Marxist Website

In the early hours of August 24 seventy years ago Germany and Soviet Russia signed a “non-aggression pact”, which divided the states of Northern and Eastern Europe into German and Soviet “spheres of influence”, effectively slicing Poland into two halves. Ben Peck looks back at what happened and explains why such an incredible event could take place – and the price that was paid.

The Stalin-Hitler pact has gone down in history as a mark of the absolute cynicism of the bureaucracy. It was a treacherous agreement that involved the occupation and division of Poland, half to Stalinist Russia and half to Hitler’s Germany. Such a move was described by the Stalinists as “defensive”. The Pact did not prevent war between Germany and Russia, but certainly helped Hitler in his war aims. It caused confusion and demoralisation amongst honest communists around the world, who for years had been denouncing Hitler as the foremost enemy of the labour movement and a threat to world peace.

Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov signs the pact. German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop and Josef Stalin stand behind him.Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov signs the pact. German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop and Josef Stalin stand behind him.Unlike Stalin, who sought all kinds of diplomatic deals with the imperialist powers in accordance with the theory of ‘socialism in one country’, and cynically sacrificed the revolution in the west, for Lenin and the Bolsheviks the guiding principle was the promotion of the world socialist revolution. This was a principle based on very concrete considerations. For a backward country like Russia, encircled by the imperialist powers, the spreading of the revolution internationally was the key to its survival and development toward world socialism.

When out of necessity Lenin and Trotsky signed the Brest-Litovsk peace treaty in 1918 it meant a strengthening of German imperialism, allowing them to take the Ukraine. The idea of a workers state dealing with capitalist nations is not precluded by socialists – each case must be weighed and considered as to how it advances the cause of the workers on an international scale. The Brest-Litovsk treaty of 1918 was forced upon the Soviet republic by Germany as its very survival was at stake. However Lenin and Trotsky saw such diplomatic manoeuvres as secondary to the only real saviour – the spreading of the revolution itself, starting with Germany.

The signing of the Stalin-Hitler pact must be seen in a different light. It marked a further break with the traditions of Bolshevism and the foreign policy of Lenin and Trotsky. As Trotsky said at the time, it was an “extra gauge with which to measure the degree of degeneration of the bureaucracy, and its contempt for the international working class, including the Comintern.”

Clearly, the rise of Fascism in Germany had had a devastating impact on the working class internationally. The mightiest and best organised labour movement in the world had allowed Fascism to triumph, as Hitler boasted, ‘without breaking a window.’ The reason for this catastrophe was the insane actions of the Stalinist Communist Parties.

By 1927 Trotsky and the Left opposition were being expelled from the Communist parties and its supporters were being hounded by the Stalinists. In face of the menace of Fascism, they raised the need for a United Front in Germany of socialist and communists. The Stalinists in Russia, having leant on the Right to defeat the Left Opposition, now proceeded to crush Bukharin and the enriched peasantry he represented. This was reflected by the ultra-left turn in the Communist International in 1928. This meant denouncing every group that was not the Communist Party as a variant of Fascism: “social-fascists”, “liberal-fascists”, and worst of all, the “Trotsky-fascists.” Such nonsense simply demoralised the workers and played into the hands of Hitler’s gangs.

The utter bankruptcy of the leaders of the German CP was revealed when Hitler was made Chancellor. They dismissed it with the declaration: “first Hitler, then our turn”! The Nazis divided and paralysed the German working class, which finally led not only to the arrest and persecution of the Jews, but also the liquidation of communist and socialist parties and all independent workers’ organisations. After this disaster, which did not even cause a ripple in the Communist Parties, Trotsky realised that the Communist International was finished and could no longer be a tool that could be used to further the cause of the international working class. A new international was needed.

German foreign minister Ribbentrop and Stalin at the signing of the Pact. Photo by Deutsches Bundesarchiv.German foreign minister Ribbentrop and Stalin at the signing of the Pact. Photo by Deutsches Bundesarchiv.At this point it is questionable whether the Stalinist bureaucracy was actively seeking to sabotage the workers’ movement as they later did in Spain in 1936, where it was clearly acting as a conscious and self-interested caste out to preserve its own position. The Spanish Stalinists acted on a line dictated from Moscow that demanded the sabotage of the revolution and the concentration of all effort on the civil war. The Stalinists were clear: “At present nothing matters except winning the war; without victory in the war all else is meaningless. Therefore this is not the moment to talk of pressing forward with the revolution… At this stage we are not fighting for the dictatorship of the proletariat, we are fighting for parliamentary democracy. Whoever tries to turn the civil war into a socialist revolution is playing into the hands of the fascists and is in effect, if not in intention, a traitor.”

This policy stemmed from their new policy of Popular Frontism, adopted in 1935 which represented a 180 degree turn. Rather than the United Front of worker organisations, the new Popular Front policy sought the unity of communists with socialists, liberals and “progressive”, “anti-fascist” capitalists. From mad ultra-leftism they swung to desperate opportunism. They abandoned all principles in order to ingratiate themselves with every “progressive” anti-fascist possible. It therefore meant the abandonment of any independent action of the working class – the only way to defeat Fascism.

At the level of international diplomacy Stalin sought to prove to the capitalist democracies that he was a reliable ally by selling out the Spanish revolution. In 1936 Stalin publicly announced that the USSR never had any such intentions of promoting world revolution, and that any such misconception was the result of a ‘tragicomic’ misunderstanding.

At this point the persecution of all opposition and political dissent inside the USSR reached fever pitch. The Purge Trials of 1936-38 drew a “river of blood” between the regimes of Lenin and Stalin. From August 1936 the world-wide Stalinist press was publishing on a daily basis resolutions from “workers meetings” speaking of the defendants as “Trotskyist terrorists” conducting their activities in league with the Gestapo!

Of the members of the Central Committee who met at the 17th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1934, the overwhelming majority had been shot or disappeared by 1938. The Purges extended far and wide. Those shot included Bukharin, Kamenev and Zinoviev, members of the Politburo under Lenin. The Red Army was purged with leading military figures murdered such as Tukhachevsky, a military genius and hero of the Civil War. In total 90% of generals, 80% of colonels, and 35,000 officers were liquidated by Stalin. The Red Army was decapitated. This fact was well noted by Hitler, particularly after the Soviets‘disastrous campaign in Finland in 1939, which played a part in his calculation to attack Russia in 1941.

Last page of the Additional Secret ProtocolLast page of the Additional Secret ProtocolLenin was fond of quoting the Prussian military theorist Clausewitz when he said that “war is the continuation of politics by other means.” The one-sided Civil War conducted against those genuine communists who remained in the Soviet Union marked the full emergence of a conscious and self-aware bureaucracy. The possible success of the Spanish revolution would have rejuvenated the aspirations of the Russian workers and undermined the stranglehold of the bureaucracy. It was no coincidence that the Moscow Trials took place at this time. If Stalin had not moved to suppress the Russian workers in blood, he would have been removed.

War was coming. The western “democracies” were not keen on a deal with Stalin. Stalin, the pragmatist, therefore sought a deal with Hitler. This was the solution, or so he thought. After the British handed Hitler Czechoslovakia on a plate, Stalin urgently needed an agreement with Hitler – whatever the cost. Within a week, the Stalin-Hitler Pact was signed. Even the pliable leaderships of the Comintern were taken by surprise. In Britain, the general secretary of the CP, Harry Pollitt, did not jump fast enough and within a few days had fallen into disgrace and was removed on Moscow’s orders.

The pact provided the Nazis with raw materials which funded the Nazi war machine in Europe, later to be turned against the USSR itself. By 1940 Russia supplied Germany with 900,000 tons of mineral oil, 100 tons of scrap iron, 500,000 tons of iron ore along with large amounts of other minerals. Soviet diplomats grovelled before the Führer in order to ingratiate themselves. In his cynical fashion, Stalin expelled each ambassador from the territories of the USSR as their countries were occupied by the Nazis armies.

In June 1941, to Stalin’s complete surprise, Hitler invaded Russia, meeting little resistance on the way. Despite the obvious signs and clear warnings, the USSR was totally unprepared and suffered heavy losses. Stalin, on hearing the news, disappeared for more than a week, declaring “All that Lenin built is lost.”

Eventually regaining his nerve, resistance was organised. The Nazi attack on the USSR delighted the imperialists who hoped that the fight on the Eastern front would mutually exhaust both sides, after which they could move in and mop up. But they had miscalculated. They had not counted on the planned economy, which, despite the waste and mismanagement of the bureaucracy, managed to increase production and shoulder the burden of the war during its darkest days. The superiority of the plan, combined with the Russian masses hatred of Hitlerism, provided the Soviet Union with the invincible fire-power needed to defeat the Nazi armies, eventually throwing them back to Berlin.

The Second World War reduced itself in essence to a struggle between the USSR and Germany, with the Allies as bystanders. In 1943, Stalin wound up the Communist International as a sop to the imperialists, but they turned deaf ears to Russia’s pleas for a Second Front. By 1945, the Red Army had shattered the Nazi war machine and defeated Hitler. This strengthened Stalinism for a whole period.

However, as Trotsky had warned, inherent within the ruling bureaucracy was a desire to restore capitalism in order to pass on their privileges to their offspring. It took 50 years for this prognosis to play out. In 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed and the leading bureaucrats, such as Yeltsin, embraced capitalism. The Stalinists, despite all the sacrifices of the Russian masses, had become the grave-diggers of the Russian Revolution

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Some times back, 31 May 2008 i wrote in my article , Nepal’s Fictitious Revolution: Goodbye King , Welcome Microsoft, few lines which i recalled when i saw great Maoist leader comrade Prachanda resigning from the office of Nepal’s prime minister.

"Azeem Tur" Prachanda

"Azeem Tur" Prachanda

Here is the man who controlled 70% of Nepal through his revolutionary armed resistance. The Nepali state had no control on 70% of the territory,the liberated region had Maoist administration, its taxation, its system. Here is the man on whose call people rose in the Capital and surrounded the Palace. During the movement one color was to be seen in Kathmandu and it was Red. The two communist parties of Kathmandu and Maoists controlled every thing. On there one call, people who were surrounding the palace could have stormed it. No, but No. With great pomp and rhetoric , king was sent home and communists saved the system. They returned the 70% of conquered territory back to the bourgeoisie. They returned their arms. Like good loyal Liberals they became part of system, the capitalist system that is.

This was called the great revolution. I unlike most communists have a problem that i have read Lenin’s State and Revolution. He wrote:

“Marx’s idea is that the working class must break up, smash the ‘ready-made state machinery,’ and not confine itself merely to laying hold of it.”

When Pakistani communists were celebrating the “revolution” in Lahore i had no hesitation in writing and declaring it a “fictitious” revolution. I knew one thing, one simple thing. There is no revolution without capture of power. The only problem for humanity is the reformist degeneration of communist leadership. The degeneration of communist parties into capitalist liberal democratic parties. They have the power, like they had in Nepal but they put it on plate and return it to the bosses with thanks. What do the bosses do, when the time comes, they strike

Dekho dur Ufak Pe---

Dekho dur Ufak Pe---

back without any gratitude. Like they did to comrade Prachanda, without any gratitude, that this man who could have snuffed out capitalism from Nepal and could have galvanized India and ushered in a new revolutionary epoch, but he choose to give up his land, his arms to the bourgoiese . They , kicked him out.

What did i say?;

“I dunno why i recall that famous speech by Michael Moore , delivered at the Oscars, ” we like non fiction because We live in fictitious times , we live in a time where fictitious elections give us a fictitious president—”

The tragedy continues, we are now having what i call “Fictitious Revolutions”, one has just occurred in Nepal, where a heroic struggle by people resulted in Communist victory but which resulted in a “revolution” where “workers” are not in control and capitalism still rules. Good bye to the King and welcome Microsoft is the Maoist agenda

Yet another of fictitious revolutions is being cooked up in Pakistan, with “Go Musharaf Go” and “Welcome Capitalism Welcome” is the policy of Pakistani lawyers and civil society

Now Prachanda has gone. Our king Mush has gone too, and our revolution has occurred too, Justice Iftikhar is back.  But change can be seen no where. Tragedy of fictitious revolutions and fictitious revolutionaries continue

Now Prachanda and the communist should wait for a genocide and civil war or become loyalist liberals in that case push people to disillusionment and face the destruction of whole communist movement of Nepal. Decades back Leon Trotsky wrote:

“In the last analysis, the crisis of humanity was reduced to a crisis of leadership of the proletariat”

In the same article Rajesh Tayagi wrote:

As a system of governance, the monarchy had already lost all its steam since the great people’s uprising of April 2006, while the forces of medieval reaction ‑ hitherto protected under the wings of the monarchy in Nepal ‑ were already adapting with Nepali bourgeois rule. Because of this, the abolition of the monarchy in Nepal as a state system, and the consequent emergence of a republic, has but a limited significance. This is in sharp contrast to the bourgeois overturns in 19th century Europe, where the emergence of bourgeois republics, represented a turn in world history. In 21st century Nepal, such a republic (although a step forward in bourgeois democratic terms) is of no real meaning and of no practical use for the people of Nepal, unless and until it puts power directly in the hands of the working class and through it the peasantry. Power would be meaningless until it is directed against the bourgeois”

Mr Tayagi wrote and these line now appear to be Prophetic :

The present turn in the politics of Nepal, presents only a caricature of the February revolution in Russia in 1917, with no October overturn in the offing, in the absence of a Bolshevik opposition. We will soon witness the same surrender of power by its Menshevik leadership, before the local reaction and imperialist bourgeoisie. We will find this leadership zealously defending the bourgeois state, law and property against the people. Unable to advance the revolution even an inch further, with every passing day, the Maoists would find themselves more and more trapped inside their false web of bourgeois democracy. Either the Maoists abandon the working people becoming open apologists of bourgeois democracy or the working people becoming more and more disillusioned, will eventually be forced to look for an alternative to the Maoists”

The tragedy continues. If anyone is interested in studying the history of crisis of leadership of Proletariat , here are three articles “Marxism and State” which deal with this question in detail.

Great Urdu write Quratulain Hyder once wrote about Faiz’s poem “ye daagh daagh Ujala” [this night bitten dawn], that it has become an anthem for her generation, i wonder that betrayal and degeneration of revolutionary leadership will make it the anthem for how many  more generations to come— we are prisoners of the dawn in Nepal and Pakistan.

Today in the historic city of Multan there was an inauguration ceremony of the latest book written by famous Pakistani Marxist intellectual and IMT activist Dr Lal Khan.The book is called “Pakistan’s Other Story: The Revolution of 1968-69”. This book is one of the most important texts to have emerged from Pakistan. It for the first time has put the positions of traditional left of Pakistan under a Marxist critique and has identified flawed ideology as the main reason for the failure of revolution of 1968 which resulted in emergence of Pakistan’s Peoples Party. In this event my dear friend read his paper on the book , the paper raises some important points regarding the history of philosophy and the errors committed by Communist Parties. We are publishing this paper which is an important read for all progressives from Pakistan

Dr Lal Khan is editor of Asian Marxist Review and have wrote 29 books. He was part of the revolutionary resistance against fascist General Zia-ul-Haq . Orders of “shoot at sight” were issues against him by the military high command but he was able to leave the country. He returned after Benazir Bhutto restored democracy.

Shaheryar Ali

Pakistan’s Other Story: Strategies of  Subversive Historiography

Dr Ahmad Arslan

pakistan_1968-69_bookIt’s really a great honor for me to be here today on the inauguration of the book by Dr Lal Khan. A lot has been written and said on the book which is called “The Other Story” of Pakistan. A lot have been said on the content of the book, its political importance and the narrative of the Revolution of 1968/69 but I would like to highlight yet another side of this book. What does it means in the field of Historiography and general history writing in Indian subcontinent. Not only this book highlights the “other side” of Pakistan, it in itself is the “other side” of History writing. Challenging the established discourse in history writing, not only the one which is termed as “bourgeois” but also the one which has long held the claim to be a pro people one .The book is not only a critique of events it is also a critique of history writing.

The general trends within the left wing history writing in the Indian Subcontinent have utilized Historical materialism in understanding and describing major turning points of Indian history and the associated social changes. This has been often hailed as well condemned as a ‘Marxist Historiography”. Marxist Historiography in Indian subcontinent is not a monolithic tradition; its not only the most advance methodology of history writing its also one of the most diverse. On one side it has contributed a lot in understanding the ancient history of India and has challenged a lot of European myths regarding “stagnation of History in India” and on “Asiatic Mode of Production” it has also provided the tools to understand history of forests in India and development of more contemporary schools like that of “Environmental History” .etc.

In more contemporary times the writing of history has been controversial even within the Marxist historians. The dominant school of Marxist historians in Indian subcontinent have increasingly come under an academic attack from new left historians who have demonstrated that their work is plagued by the “Nationalism” of Indian national congress. Eqbal Ahmad, Hamza Alvi and Ayesha Jalal have put forward a brilliant critique of Indian Nationalism and the history writing which evolved around it in order to legitimize it. Hamza Alvi is critical of Communist Party of India for failing to develop an independent position in India and putting all its eggs in Nehru’s basket. He is also critical of the Soviet Historians who went out of length in trying to prove the bourgeois character of All India Muslim League. Ahmad has analyzed and criticized Gandhi for “spiritualizing” the Indian politics and the analysis of “communalism” by the self proclaimed Marxist historians of India who have rested all the blame of partition on MA Jinnah . In his critique Congress and Gandhi emerge as the main proponents of Partition. Jalal has selected Jinnah for her work and demonstrated that contrary to the ideological myths in India and Pakistan Jinnah never perused Pakistan as an ideological objective rather it was just a political tactic used by him to gain political leverage.

While all three of these historians attempt to give an “advance” critique of  the more established Marxist history and politics now  branded as “Nehruvian Socialist” school from a Marxist left perspective, their critique is silent on “Muslim Nationalism” which emerges as a winner of a sort in their attack on Congress. The result is that though more advance, their analysis remains incomplete. Lal Khan first in his book “Partition and how it can be undone” and now in his book “Pakistan’s Other Story” have put all three positions ie those of Congress, Muslim Nationalists and Communist Party of India under a class critique. The result is emergence of a pro- people perspective on Partition and the later democratic struggle of the people in both nation states establishing essentially the people as “others” of States and Party. The historiographical implications of this work are:

1) What is the relationship between Party and the Working class

2) In any Marxist analysis primacy should be given to the interest of working class or the interest of Party

3) The interests of Party and that of working class is same or can it be demonstrated that at various critical turns of history a clear conflict of interest exists between the Party and working class evident by even a simple empirical analysis of events.

In his work Lal Khan has tried to demonstrate this “conflict of interest” between the working classes and the party which claimed to be its Vanguard. First of this critical point is the “Second great imperialist War” where the struggle of colonial people against imperialism was sacrificed resulting in nationalist degeneration of revolution all over the world. Second time this conflict of interest is demonstrated on Partition where all 4 apparently conflict engaged parties , the British, The National-Socialists, the Muslim Nationalists and the Communist agreed on partition of India on religious grounds. The people got genocide and a continuous communal and sectarian violence which got new and more murderous turn with the emergence of Taliban. The fact that it has been identified as main cause of state crisis and terrorism in Pakistan by even non Marxist academics like Dr Robina Saigol demonstrates its simple and empirical nature. Third time this conflict of interest is demonstrated at time of revolutionary explosion of 1968 when masses took to street and demanded end of the oppressive system for ever but the party from France to Pakistan helped the ruling classes to diffuse the revolution, this resulted in emergence of second wave social democracy in Europe and populism in colonial countries like Pakistan.

By demonstrating this Lal Khan provides the historiographical frame work for analysis of Pakistan Peoples Party as a phenomenon with it roots in the discontent which emerged from desire of the people to become masters of their destiny and the position of communists who analyzed the situation to be “non revolutionary”. Why this “distance” occurred between the interests of people and the Party? Lal Khan sees it in the Stalinist degeneration of Marxism, its conversion into a dogmatic nationalist ideology; the result was that the party instead of being vanguard of working class became a pawn in game of foreign policy wars between USSR, China and USA. Most of the revolutionary movements were abandoned in colonial countries to further foreign policy state interests of either USSR or China, weather it was Second World War or revolution of 1968.

The implications of this kind of politics on history writing have been extensively studied by academic Left wing in universities of advance capitalist countries. The communist historians as result of this turn engaged in down playing of resistance all over the globe. The rebellion of peasantry, Dalits, soldiers; trade unions in India during the time of communist collaboration have been suppressed in historical texts. The Spanish civil war was reduced to the status of a war of Artists, writers and poets. Communist historian as eminent as Eric Hobsbawm recently again repeated this position on Spanish Civil War. The movement of 1968 becomes a petty bourgeois reaction of students and lumpen proletarians with only cultural implications, ie development of counter culture, rock and pop music and sex revolution. In Pakistan it’s explained as labour unrest and part of United States agenda against Ayub Khan and China.

Legendary French historian Marc Ferro in his book ‘Uses and Abuses of History” have traced this change in communist historiography under Stalin and Mao where “party” replaced “class struggle” as the motor of history. While Marx and Marxist historiography have always understood class struggle to be the motor of history, later the position was put forward that because party is vanguard of working class, its positions represents the “correct class position” hence Marxist historiography became an attempt to historically justify various positions of communist Parties instead of documenting the class struggle. The result was this kind of history writing against which Lal Khan’s emerges as a Marxist critique.

With this Lal Khan’s methodology appears closer to Subaltern Historians who developed under the traditional communist historians but who  have put their histories under critique for ignoring the struggles of the “others” the peasants, students, Dalits, Women, Gender non conformists in developing an essentially pro people critique of upper classes as well as traditional progressives who were insensitive to natives and “others”. Though Lal Khan has highlighted the “others” and their struggles, he differs from the Subalterns by projecting his analysis into the future, thus in the book the suppressed struggle of 68 becomes essentially a symbol for a future 1968. Thus Lal Khan is writing history for the future and in this regard his work can be compared to writing of Trotsky when he wrote Results and Prospects after revolution of 1905 thus developing the theory of permanent revolution which echoed in April thesis and resulted in Glorious Revolution of 1917. Thus Lal Khan’s is “history of a revolution for a future revolution”. This in its essence a subversive task A radical approach towards history writing one which essentially links past to a future goal , A revolution which will be logical conclusion of tragedies of Partition and failure of 68.

Thanks for your patience

Dr Ahmad Arslan is a Marxist political activist and intellectual based in Multan , he associates himself with the working class tradition of PPP and is a medical doctor by profession. He has an interest in Marxist philosophy, History and Literature.

A fellow Pakistani blogger “Grand Trunk Road” has recently written about a conversation he had with one of Pakistani Left. He is amazed to see that Left in Pakistan is putting forward a position that Islamic Fundamentalism is some how “anti imperialist” and because of this reason it should be supported. Regardless of the fact that such a non sense can be called “Left”, this is a fact. Not only majority of Pakistani Left is of this opinion but so called “advance” European Left, has similar opinion about Hamas. This is the result when ideas degenerate. Nothing can be farther from texts, tradition and practice of the Left than these murderous positions. Haven’t we learnt from this exact blunder in Iran? Conceding the revolution to Iranian Mullah’s for the same reasons of “transitional phase” resulted in formation of one of the most monstrous regimes in human history. Genocide against Baluchs and Kurds is going on. Left has been purged. Torture, hangings and murders are order of the day in Iran. Philosophers and intellectuals are either in jail or murdered. Trade unions and Leftists are on hit lists. The GTR article can be reached here

There exists a more genuine and more leftist position on this issue. The “International Marxist Website” has published a series of article against this position. I think it is a far better and correct left wing position that what Tariq Ali and others are saying

Here is Part 2 of the article:

Shaheryar Ali

Why Revolutionary Marxists should not support Islamic fundamentalists – Part Two

By Maziar Razi

Chris Harman sides with reactionary Islamic Fundamentalists

If Tony Cliff parts from the basic ideas of revolutionary Marxism and revises Trotsky’s permanent revolution, Chris Harman, by extending Tony Cliff’s deviation, sides with counter-revolutionary Islamic fundamentalists. This position potentially places the SWP leadership in a united bloc with reactionaries.

Chris Harman discusses the theoretical root of his support for the Islamic Republic of Iran and fundamentalism:

“As Tony Cliff put it in a major piece of Marxist analysis, if the old ruling class is too weak to hang on to power in the face of economic crisis and insurgency from below, while the working class does not have the independent organisation to allow it to become the head of the movement, then sections of the intelligentsia are able to make a bid for power, feeling that they have a mission to solve the problems of society as a whole”

‘The intelligentsia is sensitive to their countries’ technical lag. …In a crumbling order where the traditional pattern is disintegrating, they feel insecure, rootless, lacking infirm values. Dissolving cultures give rise to a powerful urge for a new integration that must be total and dynamic if it is to fill the social and spiritual vacuum that must combine religious fervour with militant nationalism. They are in search for a dynamic movement which will unify the nation and open up broad vistas for it, but at the same time will give themselves power…”

Ayatollah Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini
Ayatollah Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini

Chris Harman concludes:

“Although these words (by Tony Cliff) were written about the attraction of Stalinism, Maoism and Castroism in Third World countries, they fit absolutely the Islamist intelligentsia around Khomeini in Iran. They were not, as many left wing commentators have mistakenly believed, merely an expression of ‘backward’, bazaar-based traditional, ‘parasitic’, ‘merchant capital’. Nor were they simply an expression of classic bourgeois counter-revolution. They undertook a revolutionary reorganisation of ownership and control of capital within Iran even while leaving capitalist relations of production intact, putting large scale capital that had been owned by the group around the Shah into the hands of state and parastate bodies controlled by themselves  ‑ in the interests of the ‘oppressed’, of course, with the corporation that took over the Shah’s own economic empire being named the Mustafazin (‘Oppressed’) Foundation.” (emphasis added).

“The interesting thing about the method by which the group around Khomeini ousted their opponents and established a one party regime was that there was nothing specifically Islamist about it. It was not, as many people horrified by the religious intolerance of the regime contend, a result of some ‘irrational’ or ‘medieval’ characteristic of ‘Islamic fundamentalism’. In fact, it was very similar to that carried through in different parts of the world by parties based on sections of the petty bourgeoisie. It was the method used, for instance, by the weak Communist Parties of much of Eastern Europe to establish their control after 1945. And a prototype for the petty bourgeois who combines ideological fervour and personal advance is to be found in Balzac’s Pére Goriot–the austere Jacobin who makes his fortune out of exploiting the shortages created by the revolutionary upheaval.”

“The victory of Khomeini’s forces in Iran was not, then, inevitable, and neither does it prove that Islamism is a uniquely reactionary force against which the left must be prepared to unite with the devil (or rather, the Great Satan) of imperialism and its local allies. It merely confirms that, in the absence of independent working class leadership, revolutionary upheaval can give way to more than one form of the restabilisation of bourgeois rule under a repressive, authoritarian, one party state. The secret ingredient in this process was not the allegedly ‘medieval’ character of Islam, but the vacuum created by the failure of the socialist organisations to give leadership to an inexperienced but very combative working class.” (The prophet and the proletariat, Chris Harman, International Socialism Journal, issue 64, Autumn 1994)

Following Tony Cliff’s revision of the permanent revolution, Chris Harman absurdly compares Khomeini’s regime to “weak communist parties in East Europe” or Jacobins! By doing so, Chris Harman shows that not only is he clueless about the history and class nature of Islamic fundamentalists in Iran, but he also misrepresents Tony Cliff’s deviated position.

All this is not at all surprising if one looks briefly at another major error in the ideas developed first by Tony Cliff and later built on by his followers. Cliff drew the conclusion that the degeneration of the Soviet Union had led to the establishment of “state capitalism”, and later applied this to Eastern Europe and other regimes where capitalism had been abolished and a planned economy had been put in its place.

Having stated that these regimes were just another form of capitalism, it appears clear why they see no fundamental difference between a regime such as that in Cuba and the Islamic fundamentalist regime in Iran. Here one can also begin to see why they develop illusions in the Islamic regimes. Thus they look at the superficial aspects that could lead one to see Castro’s Cuba and Khomeini’s Iran in the same light. As they both have come into conflict at various times with US imperialism then there must be some similarity between them. Instead of looking at the essential aspect of the way the economy works, they look at the outer trappings.

Genuine Trotskyists have always defended the planned economy of the Soviet Union in the past and what still remains of it in Cuba today. They fought the Stalinist degeneration, the bureaucracy with all its monstrous features, while defending the centrally planned state owned economy. In Iran the system cannot be compared to that of the former Soviet Union, but if – as the SWP thinks – the Soviet Union was merely a variant of capitalism one can understand how easy it is to fall into the blunder of seeing in the stabilisation of capitalist relations under Khomeini a similar process to what happened under Stalin. It is like confusing oil with water. The two are very different. Down this road one can see how the process of prettifying Islamic fundamentalism can start.

Reactionary role of clergy ignored by Chris Harman

Unlike Chris Harman’s belief, Khomeini’s clique has been part and parcel of the ruling class in Iran for decades. Neither the IRI’s leaders, nor its social base have been formed by the “intelligentsia”! The main bulk of the leadership have been big landlords (like Ali Akbar Rafsanjani – the president of the IRI for two terms, and one of most influential and prominent figures today); and the social base of the regime was formed mainly by discontented shanty towns dwellers, urban petty bourgeois and the peasant migrants, etc. Given the predominance of the urban petty bourgeois and the peasant migrants in the early stages of the mass movement, the call of the clergy for “Islamic Justice”, “Islamic economics”, “Islamic army”, and “Islamic state” could immediately find a willing mass base.

The point Chris Harman should realise is that, if the bourgeoisie is in power and the state is a bourgeois state, then obviously the fundamental question, according to Marx, Lenin and Trotsky is the destruction of that state and replacing it with a workers’ state which can carry out the bourgeois democratic tasks. By this logic, any bourgeois state is utterly reactionary and must be toppled by a revolution. But the SWP argues to the contrary and believes that any “enemy” of imperialism in any underdeveloped country, in the absence of revolutionary proletariat, is objectively “progressive” and is potentially a positive step in the process of growing over to the socialist phase.

It is obvious that, if the class character of the state has already become bourgeois (unlike the character of the national bourgeoisie over 100 years ago), then it follows by definition that it has a social base within the bourgeoisie and is therefore also actively supported by at least the upper layers of the petty bourgeoisie. Today, in any of the underdeveloped capitalist countries, in the event of a revolutionary crisis which could threaten bourgeois class rule, one must expect to find in the camp of counter-revolution not only the entire bourgeoisie, but also the upper layers of the petty bourgeoisie, and some of the so called “intelligentsia” are no exception to this rule.

In the Iranian revolution of 1979 precisely this scenario took place. The entire resources of the international and national bourgeoisie, orchestrated by the CIA, were mobilised to transfer power to Khomeini as the representative of the capitalist clergy, to safeguard and save the bourgeois state. The shock troops of the counterrevolution were made up of this layer, i.e. the petty bourgeoisie.

What Chris Harman misses completely in his analysis of the IRI, is the fact that it is well documented that long before the February 1978 insurrection, important sections of the army, the secret police and the bureaucracy lined up behind Khomeini. US imperialism also intervened directly to bring about a negotiated settlement between the chiefs of the armed forces and the bourgeois-clerical leadership, not to mention many of the biggest bourgeois entrepreneurs who gave Khomeini huge sums of money to organise his “leadership”.

Given the broadness of the mass movement and its radicalism, the only way that the bourgeois counter-revolution could have succeeded in defeating the revolution was by “joining” it. This could have been possible only by supporting a faction within the opposition to the Shah that could ensure a degree of control over the masses. This was one of the most (if not the most) important factors in placing Khomeini at the head of the mass movement.

The reasons why the Shiite clergy, especially Khomeini’s faction, was well suited for this task should be obvious. The clergy has always been an important institution of the state, well trained in defending class society and private property. After all, the Shiite hierarchy has been the main ideological prop of the state. Khomeini himself had come from a faction which had already proven its loyalty to the ruling class by helping it in the 1953 coup.

It was also the least hated instrument of the state, because it was not a structural part of what it was supporting. Unlike the Catholic Church, it had always kept its distance from the state. Especially because of the post-White Revolution period of capitalist development, the clergy had been relegated to a secondary position. Indeed, because of this, a growing faction within the hierarchy had been forced into a position of opposition to the Shah’s regime. This could now be utilised as a passport inside the mass movement.

Given the weakness of the bourgeois political opposition, which was not allowed to operate under the Shah, the clergy, with its nationwide network of mullahs and mosques, provided the strong instrument-cum-party necessary for “organising” and channelling the spontaneous mass movement. It could also provide the type of vague populist ideology needed to blunt the radical demands of the masses and to unite them around a veiled bourgeois programme.

To deny, therefore, even today, as the SWP leadership does, that Khomeini’s counter-revolutionary drive coincided with its efforts to place itself at the leadership of the revolution, is to go against all the facts now known to millions of Iranians themselves. To deny also that from the beginning it was helped in these efforts by the ruling classes and their imperialist backers is to misunderstand the main course of events in the Iranian revolution.

It is, therefore, a total mystification to characterise the Iranian revolution as a popular anti-imperialist revolution led by “petty bourgeois intelligentsia” or to state that “They [the regime] undertook a revolutionary reorganisation of ownership and control of capital within Iran“. This interpretation completely misses out the specific counter-revolutionary role of the bourgeoisie and its political tool within the revolution.

The political and economic crisis of the 1976-78 period, which set the scene for the mass unrest, was made up of different and contradictory factors. Alongside the mass movement of protests against the Shah’s dependent capitalist dictatorship, there were also important rifts inside the bourgeoisie as a whole, both within the pro-Shah sections and between the pro and anti-Shah sections.

These bourgeoisie oppositions to the Shah’s rule were transformed as the revolutionary crisis grew and deepened: there was, firstly, a movement for the reform of the Shah’s state from within the top “modernist” bourgeoisie, which favoured the limitation of the Royal Family’s absolute powers and was for a certain degree of rationalisation of the capitalist state. The requirements of further capitalist development themselves necessitated these reforms.

This faction had already formed itself within the Shah’s single party (rastakhiz – Resurgence) before the revolutionary crisis. It had the support of an important section of the technocrats and bureaucrats inside Iran, and of influential groups within the US establishment. As the crisis deepened, this faction became increasingly vociferous in its opposition to the Shah. It began to use the threat of the mass movement as leverage in its dealings with the Shah. The ousting of Hoveida’s government and the formation of Amouzegar’s cabinet was a concession to this faction. The development of the mass movement was, however, pushing other bourgeois oppositionists to the forefront.

This faction knew that, in order to ride the crisis out, it had to hide behind bourgeois politicians less associated with the Shah’s dictatorship. In no other way could it hope to enjoy a certain degree of support inside the mass movement. The re-emergence of the corpse called the National Front and the rise of newly created bourgeois liberal groupings, (e.g. the Radical Movement) were linked to this trend.

There was also an opposition to the Shah from within the more traditional sectors of the bourgeoisie (the big bazaar merchants and the small and medium sized capitalists from the more traditional sectors of the industry).

The White Revolution and the type of capitalist growth which followed it had also enriched these layers. Nevertheless, they were more or less pushed out of the main channels of the state-backed capital accumulation and hence out of the ruling class.

The structural crisis of Iranian capitalism in the mid-1970’s had resulted in the sharpening of the attacks by the Shah’s state on these layers which still had control over a section of the internal market. This hold had to be weakened, to allow the monopolies to resolve their crisis of overproduction. The consumer goods oriented and technologically dependent industrialisation meant a strong tendency for bureaucratic control of the internal market through the state.

To these layers, opposition to the Shah’s rule was a matter of a life and death struggle. They could in no way be satisfied with the type of reforms that were being proposed by the other factions. They demanded a more radical change within the power structures. Whilst the reformist factions vehemently opposed any radical change that could shake up the power of the ruling class as a whole, this faction’s interests were in no way harmed by demanding no less than the removal of the Shah’s regime.

As the mass movement grew, it became obvious that this faction could decisively outbid the others. Through the traditional channels of the bazaar economy, it could draw on the support of the urban petty bourgeoisie and the enormous mass of the urban poor linked to it. This faction had, in addition, many links with the powerful Shiite hierarchy. Ever since the White Revolution, the traditional bourgeoisie and the Shiite clergy had drawn closer and closer together.

An important lesson drawn by a section of the bourgeoisie after its defeat in 1953 was precisely that, without an Islamic ideology and without the backing of the mullahs, it could never ensure enough mass support to enable it to pose as a realistic alternative both to the Shah and to the left. Bazargan’s and Taleghani’s Freedom Movement represented this trend. This “party” was now offered an opportunity to save the bourgeoisie in its moment of crisis.

The formation of Sharif Emami’s cabinet represented a move by the Shah’s regime to also include this faction in whatever concessions it had to give. “The government of national conciliation” as it called itself, could, however, neither satisfy the two bourgeois factions, nor quench the mass movement which by now had gathered a new vitality because of the gradually developing general strike.

Throughout this period, Khomeini was popular because he appeared to be consistently calling for the overthrow of the Shah. But at the same time he was preparing to reach an agreement with the regime. In fact it was precisely in this period that, with the help of powerful forces within the regime itself, Khomeini’s “leadership” was being established over the mass movement. By September 1978, a certain degree of control was exercised which could have allowed a compromise at the top. What put a stop to this was the developing general strike.

The stage was thus set for the opening of the pre-revolutionary period of September 1978 to February 1979, marked by the further isolation of the Shah’s regime, demoralisation of the army and the police, the radicalisation of the masses and the complete paralysis of the entire bourgeois society because of the very effective general strike.

US imperialism and the pro-Shah bourgeoisie were now forced to go a lot further in giving concessions to the mass movement. The removal of the Shah from the scene and the establishment of the Bakhtiar government was in its time and in itself a very radical concession by the dictatorship. It was hoped that in this way the reformist faction, which was already made to look more acceptable, would be strengthened and thus force the more radical faction into a compromise. It was, however, already too late for such compromises. The mass movement was becoming extremely confident of its own strength and the prevailing mood was that of not agreeing to anything less than the complete ousting of the Shah. Furthermore, any politician who tried to reach a compromise with the Shah, immediately lost all support. In fact, even the National Front was forced to renounce Bakhtiar.

This explains the so-called “intransigence” of Khomeini’s stand. By denouncing Bakhtiar (with whom his representatives in Iran were nevertheless holding secret negotiations) and supporting the mass movement, he was strengthening his own hand vis-à-vis both factions of the bourgeois opposition. He was forcing the more popular figures within these factions to accept his “leadership” and preventing them from reaching any compromises without his involvement.

The military circles and the imperialists were also by this time prepared to give up a lot more. There was a growing restlessness within the army. The pro-Shah hard liners were preparing for a coup against Bakhtiar. This would have completely finished off the army and with it the last hope of the bourgeoisie in maintaining class rule.

It was becoming obvious that a compromise had to be reached with Khomeini. And that was exactly what took place. Secret negotiations between Beheshti and Bazargan on the one side and the heads of the army and the secret police on the other side were held in Tehran. The arbiter was the US representative General Huyser, whose job was to ensure that the army would keep its side of the bargain. Major sections of the ruling class had been pushed by the course of events, and the encouragement of the Carter administration, to accept sharing power with the opposition. What was hoped was a smooth transition from the top to a Bazargan government.

Bazargan had emerged as the acceptable alternative because he was the only one who could bring about a coalition involving both major bourgeois factions, whilst at the same time being more associated with the, by now, more powerful Khomeini leadership. Khomeini was also forced to accept such a deal because this provided the best cover for the clergy’s own designs for power.

At that time the clergy could not make any open claims to political power. Khomeini, to alleviate the fears of the bourgeoisie, and to keep his own options open within the mass movement, was constantly reassuring everybody that once the Shah was gone he would go back to Qom and continue with his “religious duties”. Khomeini was thus allowed to return to Iran from exile and his appointed provisional government was preparing to take over from Bakhtiar.

The February insurrection was, however, not part of the deal. Some of the now staunch supporters of the Shah within the chiefs of the armed forces who opposed the US backed compromise, tried to change the course of events by organising a military coup. This resulted in an immediate mass response and insurrection, which was initially opposed by Khomeini. But his forces had to join in later, because otherwise they would have lost all control over the mass movement and with it any hope of saving the state apparatus.

The only way to divert the insurrection was therefore to “lead” it. The army chiefs and the bureaucracy were prepared to give their allegiance to Khomeini and his Revolutionary Islamic Council, since this alone could save them from the insurrectionary masses. It was thus that the Bazargan’s Provisional Revolutionary Government, as it was called, replaced Bakhtiar’s. The blessings of Khomeini, therefore, ensured the establishment of a new capitalist government over the head of the masses. In this way, it is obvious that what appeared as “the leadership of the Iranian revolution” basically played, from the beginning, the role of an instrument of bourgeois political counter-revolution, imposed from above in order to roll back the gains of the masses and to save as much of the bourgeois state apparatus as was possible under the given balance of social forces. The ruling class was as yet in no position to resort to further repression.

Khomeini was, however, not offering all these services to play second fiddle. He was simply preparing for the takeover of all power at a more favourable moment. He represented a faction of the clergy that had been bent on establishing a more direct role for the Shiite hierarchy ever since the Mosadegh period. This faction, in cooperation with the then head of the secret police, made a move in the early 1960s for power, but failed. History was now providing it with an opportunity that it could not allow to slip away, especially given the fact that the bourgeois class was extremely weakened and hardly in a position to put up any resistance. The latter, with the approval of the imperialist master, had called on the clergy to save it in its moment of dire need by sharing power. What followed next in the post-revolutionary period can only be understood if the designs of the clergy for power are taken into account.

In the beginning, the clergy did not have the necessary instruments for exercising power. The Khomeini faction did not even have hegemony inside the Shiite hierarchy. Many clerical heads opposed the participation of the clergy in politics. It could not rely on the existing institutions in the state either, since they were entirely unsuitable to clerical domination. Amongst other reasons, the bureaucracy itself was all opposed to clerical rule anyway. Even the Prime Minister designate, who was the most “Islamic” of all the bourgeois politicians, resisted any attempts by the mullahs to dominate the functions of the state. A period of preparation was thus necessary.

With the direct backing of Khomeini, this faction first organised a political party, the Islamic Republican Party. This was simply presented as one newly formed party among others. Later on, however, this party squeezed out all the others and later replaced the Shah’s single party. Through the networks of pro-Khomeini mullahs, it established an entire organisation of neighbourhood committees and Pasdaran units supposedly to help the government to keep law and order and to resist the monarchist counter-revolution.

Revolutionary Islamic Courts were also set up to punish the Shah’s henchmen. These courts quickly executed a few of the most hated elements of the old regime, but only in order to save the majority from the anger of the masses. The Imam’s committees, the Pasdaran Army and the Islamic Courts, rapidly replaced the Shah’s instruments of repression.

All these moves were initially supported by the bourgeoisie, which realised that it was only through these measures that it could hope to finish off the revolution and begin the “period of reconstruction.” The newly created “revolutionary institutions” were serving the Bazargan government well, constantly reassuring it of their allegiance to it. Later on, however, they became instruments of the clergy in ousting the bourgeois politicians from the reins of power and indirectly dominating the state apparatus.

Khomeini also forced an early referendum on the nature of the regime to replace the Shah: monarchy or the Islamic Republic? Despite the grumbling of the bourgeois politicians, they had to accept this undemocratic method of determining the fate of the state, because the other alternative was the formation of the promised constituent assembly. The election of such an assembly during that revolutionary period would of course have posed many threats to bourgeois rule.

The referendum was thus held and of course the majority voted for the Islamic Republic. The mullahs knew that the masses could not very well vote for the monarchy! It was later claimed that, since 98 percent of the people had voted for an Islamic Republic, hence the constituent assembly must be replaced by an assembly of “experts” (khobregan) based on Islamic law. The small assembly, which was therefore packed with mullahs, had of course a majority who suddenly brought out a constitution giving dictatorial powers to Khomeini as the chief of the experts.

The clause of velayat-e faghih (the rule of the chief mullah) was resisted by the bourgeois politicians, but the clergy pushed it through by a demagogic appeal to the anti-imperialist sentiments of the masses and through the controlled mass mobilisations around the US embassy. The masses were told that now that we face “this major threat from the Great Satan” we must all vote for the Islamic Constitution. With an almost 40% vote, this became nevertheless the new constitution.

Hence, Khomeini’s clerical faction co-operated with the various bourgeois groupings in joint efforts by the ruling class to prevent the total destruction of the bourgeois state and in diverting and suppressing the Iranian revolution, whilst at the same time, always strengthening its own hand and trying to subordinate other factions to its own rule. It used its advantageous position within the mass movement to bypass the bourgeois state whenever it suited its own factional interest. But it was also forging a new apparatus of repression that was being gradually integrated into the state as the competition with other factions was being resolved in its favour.

Contrary to the deviated analysis of the SWP leadership, at that time Ted Grant had a clear understanding of the nature of the Khomeini leadership and the role that it played and side with masses of people. This is what he wrote at the time:

“It is probable that Khomeini will come to power. All the pleas of Bakhtiar that the state cannot allow the Church to play a direct and commanding role in politics will be in vain.

“But once having come to power the futility of the reactionary and medieval ideas of abolishing interest while not altering the economic oasis of society will be shown to result in chaos. Maintaining intact commercial and industrial capital while abolishing interest or usury is entirely utopian. Even in medieval times, when the doctrine of both the Christian and Muslim church was against usury, nevertheless it continued to exist in many forms. It would have disastrous consequences while capitalism remained, on the economy of Iran, and inevitably would have to be abandoned.

“Khomeini has declared that he does not wish to establish a reactionary military dictatorship or to establish a semi-feudal dictatorship. It is this element in their programme where the Mullahs have claimed to stand for freedom and democracy, which has been a powerful source of attraction to the mass of the middle class, and of course to sections of the workers as well.

“But the utopian programme of Khomeini can in no way solve the problems that face the Iranian people at the present time.

“Khomeini has made it clear that he will accept nothing less than the abolition of the monarchy. The Regency Council which has been set up by the Bakhtiar government will not be able to maintain control, or to keep the seat warm for the Shah. Even the abdication of the Shah would no longer be sufficient. Now it is a question of the abolition of the monarchy.”

And again:

“Support for Khomeini will melt away after he forms a government. The failure of his programme of a Muslim theocratic republic to solve the problems of the Iranian people will become apparent.

“The masses of the people have their aspirations not only for democratic rights but for higher standards of living. The trade unions in Iran will have an explosive growth. Already they are mushrooming as workers feel the elementary need for organisation. They will attain a mighty scope in the period that lies ahead. Just as in Portugal, where 82% of the working class is now organised in trade unions, so similar results will be achieved in Iran in the coming months and years. Possibly the majority and even the bulk of the working class in Iran will become organised.

“Capitalist democracy under modern conditions with the crisis of capitalism on a world scale cannot establish itself for any length of time in Iran. The workers have already learned and will learn even more in the course of the developing struggle. If the masses are defeated and a capitalist Bonapartist military dictatorship is established it would not be stable, as we have seen with the Latin American capitalist military-police dictatorships, and the dictatorship in Pakistan.

“Even in the worst resort, reaction would prepare the way for revenge on the part of the masses, at a not too distant date. It would be 1905 in Russia over again.

“But such a denouement is not at all necessary. If the forces of Marxism succeed in gaining support in Iran, then it could result in a brilliant victory on the lines of the revolution in Russia of 1917.” (The Iranian Revolution, Ted Grant, February 9, 1979)

Unfortunately the Marxists were too weak and could not play the role envisaged by Ted Grant. The Stalinists tail-ended the Khomeini regime, creating illusions in his democratic and progressive credentials rather than exposing him for what he was. Had there existed a powerful Marxist alternative things would have turned out very differently. In 1979 the Iranian workers could have come to power, providing the spark for revolution eastwards across the whole of the Middle East and westwards into Pakistan and India and beyond.

Chris Harman, on the other hand, in his The prophet and the proletariat and the rest of the SWP leadership subsequently misrepresent the history of the 1979 revolution in Iran and the class nature of the Khomeini regime. By doing so, they have gone even further than Tony Cliff in revising Trotsky’s ideas on permanent revolution. They have also added confusion upon confusion by totally misunderstanding first the nature of the Soviet Union and consequently the nature of such regimes as that created under Khomeini and that still survives today. Thus they mislead their own supporters and anyone who comes under the influence of their theories and thereby betray the interests of Iranian and international working class.

Conclusion

The main political dangers of the SWP’s position are as follows:

Firstly, the SWP discredits the fundamental ideas of Trotskyism, Leninism and Marxism by revising the theory of permanent revolution.

Secondly, the SWP will be forced to present the repressiveness of this regime as a secondary issue. Thus, in practice, it will side with a reactionary regime which has brutally eliminated the leaders of democratic movements of workers, students and women. With such a position any SWP supporters in Iran (fortunately there are none at the moment) would end up collaborating with a semi-fascist regime against the genuinely progressive forces.

Thirdly, the supporters of the SWP in Europe end up by forming united fronts with supporters of Islamic groups such as Hezbollah and this would make it practically impossible for progressive forces in opposition to the present Iranian regime to enter into any activities with them. That is why the SWP is under constant attack by the genuine currents of opposition to the regime in Iran and cannot recruit even one progressive person to its organisation or ideas.

Fourthly, the SWP will be used by Hezbollah activists in Europe and within the Islamic Republic of Iran to their own advantage to undermine the just struggles of the Iranian working class and socialists in Iran. Thus the SWP does a disservice to all genuine socialists struggling against Islamic fundamentalism. Attempts will be made to identify genuine socialists within the opposition to this dictatorial regime with the mistaken positions of the SWP and thus the credibility of all socialists is put at risk.

For these reasons, the SWP leadership (or other organisations with a similar line of intervention in Europe and North America) should be exposed and isolated. So long as they side with or support the most reactionary regimes in modern history (under any pretext) genuine revolutionary Marxists should not enter into any joint activities with them.

December 2008

[This article is based on the interventions of comrade Maziar Razi at the IMT World Congress, in Barcelona, August 2008. The article has been written for Marxist.com.]

A fellow Pakistani blogger “Grand Trunk Road” has recently written about a conversation he had with one of Pakistani Left. He is amazed to see that Left in Pakistan is putting forward a position that Islamic Fundamentalism is some how “anti imperialist” and because of this reason it should be supported. Regardless of the fact that such a non sense can be called “Left”, this is a fact. Not only majority of Pakistani Left is of this opinion but so called “advance” European Left, has similar opinion about Hamas. This is the result when ideas degenerate. Nothing can be farther from texts, tradition and practice of the Left than these murderous positions. Haven’t we learnt from this exact blunder in Iran? Conceding the revolution to Iranian Mullah’s for the same reasons of “transitional phase” resulted in formation of one of the most monstrous regimes in human history. Genocide against Baluchs and Kurds is going on. Left has been purged. Torture, hangings and murders are order of the day in Iran. Philosophers and intellectuals are either in jail or murdered. Trade unions and Leftists are on hit lists. The GTR article can be reached here

There exists a more genuine and more leftist position on this issue. The “International Marxist Website” has published a series of article against this position. I think it is a far better and correct left wing position that what Tariq Ali and others are saying

Shaheryar Ali

Why Revolutionary Marxists should not support Islamic fundamentalists – Part One

By Maziar Razi

Introduction

The question of Islamic fundamentalism has been one of the central tactical issues facing Marxists over the past few decades. In fact the origin of this dilemma and discussion dates back to three decades ago and the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) in February 1979.

24&25 on flickr)
Hezbollah and Hamas soldiers

Those on the “left” who argue the need to support the Islamic fundamentalists, in general, and the IRI regime, in particular, fall into three categories. Firstly, there are confused so-called lefts (anarchists and radical petty bourgeois trends); Secondly, there are governments, that although in their own countries have carried out important radical reforms, such as Venezuela, or have even carried out radical social transformations, such as Cuba, have established diplomatic and economic ties with the IRI and Hezbollah seeking some kind of third front, an “anti-imperialist” alliance; Thirdly, there some so-called Trotskyists and their allies (e.g., the Socialist Workers Party “SWP” and Respect in Britain) who have a flawed analysis about Islamic fundamentalism.

The first two categories have based their position in regards to the fundamentalists on “the enemy of our enemy is our friend” theory. That is to say, that they are either not sure about the class nature of these Islamic trends, and support them at face value (apparently as they are showing resistance to imperialists policies); or they are well aware of the reactionary nature of fundamentalism but for the sake of diplomacy and strengthening the “anti-imperialist bloc” they pursue a very dubious position by siding with a reactionary and semi-fascist state and its allies (for which they will pay a big price once the essential errors of this diplomacy are exposed internationally).

The purpose of this article is to deal mainly with the third variant, which is best expressed by the Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP) of Britain. This is an organisation that claims to be “internationalist” and “Marxist”. We have to state quite clearly that the position adopted by the British SWP is based on a deep-rooted and theoretical misconception. Therefore their views have to be analysed in more detail. They claim that the defence of a reactionary regime, such as the Iranian, is justified on the basis of “Trotskyism”. In reality they have abandoned genuine Trotskyism and with it the essence of the permanent revolution.

The SWP does the unthinkable

On the basis of a false theoretical justification (which will be dealt with in this article), the SWP is de facto acting as a “spokesperson” of a reactionary regime in Europe. Their main slogans in anti-war demonstrations have included, “We are all Hezbollah now!” In their newspapers they support the Islamic Republic of Iran without highlighting the level of repression against workers and students which is unprecedented in recent history. Only when forced do they admit that workers are being repressed. Their approach to this has more to do with bourgeois diplomacy than with a genuinely revolutionary Marxist approach. They have watered down their criticisms of the regime for the sake of unity with a whole series of dubious Islamic fundamentalist groups. This process of adaptation became accentuated particularly in the SWP’s collaboration with George Galloway in the formation of the Respect party in Britain. We will look into this later.

In 1994 Chris Harman wrote a lengthy document, The Prophet and the Proletariat, in which he attempted to defend a Marxist position on the question of Islamic fundamentalism. Harman explained that, “many of the individuals attracted to radical versions of Islamism can be influenced by socialists – provided socialists combine complete political independence from all forms of Islamism with a willingness to seize opportunities to draw individual Islamists into genuinely radical forms of struggle alongside them.” So far, so good.

It was in that same document that Harman wrote an oft-quoted piece:

“On some issues we will find ourselves on the same side as the Islamists against imperialism and the state. This was true, for instance, in many countries during the second Gulf War. It should be true in countries like France or Britain when it comes to combating racism. Where the Islamists are in opposition, our rule should be, ‘with the Islamists sometimes, with the state never’.”

Here Harman was already on a slippery road to opportunism, for although at the time he attempted to maintain a more balanced approach, it clearly indicated the tendency that was to develop later, as he confused the “Islamists” with the people governed by the Islamists. It is one thing to be with the working people of Iran against imperialism, it is another to side with the regime itself. Instead, more and more, as time has gone by the SWP has in practice played down the reactionary nature of “Islamism”.

We have to state clearly that the Islamic regime in Iran is a mortal enemy of the working class and youth. However, this does not just apply to the “Islamists” in Iran. Wherever Islamist regimes have come to power they have installed reactionary anti-working class regimes, and where they are not in power they play a reactionary role within the movement. In the past (see the Tudeh party in Iran at the time of Khomeini’s coming to power) it was the Stalinists who depicted the Islamic fundamentalists in a positive light. It is ironic that now a group that claims the mantle of Trotsky should be leaning in the same direction.

On the Iranian regime we can have no doubts about its reactionary and brutal nature. For what has the Iranian regime (this blood-soaked regime!) done to the workers and youth of Iran? In the past 30 years in power it has executed 50 times more socialists, communists and workers’ leaders than during the 37-year rule of the Shah and his CIA-trained hangmen and torturers! In 1987, during just two days, the regime executed more than 12,000 left-wing activists in prison. It has recruited 400,000 Basiji thugs from the villages and let them loose on women in Iranian cities. The regime’s thugs flog anyone who does not observe the “Islamic Dress Code” in the streets. They throw acid on women’s faces. They forcefully enter people’s homes to search for alcoholic drinks and music CDs. They have killed and imprisoned most of the leaders of the labour movement that is demanding the workers’ unpaid wages (for anything from 6-12 months) or basic trade union rights. The list is too long. Are these not the real issues that a “revolutionary” organisation should be concerned with?

The SWP in its publications admits that workers are arrested and so on, but it shies away from looking at the overall situation faced by the Iranian workers over a period of years. It allows itself to be sucked into the question of whether Iran has a right to develop Nuclear weapons

“So what is Iran doing wrong? As a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran is well within its right to develop nuclear energy for civilian purposes and has done so under the watchful eye of International Atomic Energy Authority.” (11 February 2006, Socialist Worker online)

They publish this as if the nuclear programme of the regime is purely for peaceful reasons, when it is clear that the Iranian regime is preparing to add itself to the list of nuclear powers, as a counterweight to the threats of US imperialism. Nobody should have any illusions about this. Of course, we cannot support the manoeuvres of western imperialism, in particular the USA, when they use Iran’s nuclear research as an excuse to lean on the regime and get it to act according to their interests. The task of dealing with the Iranian regime, and its nuclear research, belongs to the Iranian working class and no one else.

In another article we read:

“The Iranian president Mahmud Ahmadinejad’s denunciations of Israel have proved popular in the Arab world. The Lebanese Islamist movement Hezbollah, Iran’s ally won even greater acclaim when it defeated Israel in last year’s war.” (21 August 2007, Socialist Worker online).

This may be a statement of fact, but surely the role of a “Marxist” critique should be to expose the demagogy of someone like Ahmadinejad and not to present him in positive light?

This kind of prettifying of the present Iranian regime (i.e. rendering a service to a reactionary regime), may explain why the Iranian authorities have given the green light to the SWP leaders’ books being translated and published in Iran! We have to remember that in Iran any independent writer, translator or publisher has to get the permission of Vezarat-e Ershad-e Eslami (the Islamic Guidance Ministry) before any book or magazine sees the light of day. This so-called ministry consists of some influential clergy who act as a censorship body (Mr Khatami, the ex-president of Iran, was a member of this ministry). Any book or article which does not correspond closely with the “Islamic” code of conduct is censored.

To the surprise of many socialists and Marxists in Iran who have witnessed severe censorship and even arrests and closure of their offices for publishing or translating any Marxist work ‑ and in a country that has the highest level of censorship and repression against intellectuals and students in the world(!) – many books written by the SWP leadership have received permission from the Vezarat-e Ershad and have been published by official publishers. The major books by Alex Callinicos that have been translated and published in Iran are: Social theory: historical introduction; Against Postmodernism: a Marxist critique; Marxism and the New Imperialism; Trotskyism, Marxism and Philosophy; The revolutionary ideas of Karl Marx, and An anti-Capitalist manifesto. Books by Chris Harman include: A people’s history of the world and Explaining the crisis: a Marxist re-appraisal. In addition, official reformist newspapers like Iran and Shargh have published many articles by these two gentlemen.

What this reflects is the following. While in their articles the SWP leaders continue to pay lip service to the need for socialism, Marxism and so on, in practice they make a whole series of opportunist concessions to the Islamic fundamentalists. Having given such “critical” or “moral” support to the IRI, the least the Iranian regime can do is allow the publication of some of the SWP’s works! It is clear that the regime sees no problem in this kind of so-called “Trotskyist” grouping. Meanwhile many genuine militants continue to be arrested, harassed and victimised.

One of the main leaders of the SWP, Alex Callinicos, gave an interview in October 2006 published here in which he said the following:

“To the extent to which they [the Islamists] translate words into action, as Hezbollah have against Israel, then, on this central issue they cannot be described as ‘ultra-conservative’. Of course, when it comes to social and economic issues the picture is different – the Muslim Brotherhood, for example, supports privatization in Egypt. But even here one has to be careful. Both the Brotherhood and Hezbollah have cultivated a popular base among the urban poor through their welfare programmes, something that one can’t imagine American Republicans or British Tories doing.”

Thus reactionary parties are presented as being better than the Tories in Britain or Republicans in the USA. Here we see how they are already making concessions to the “Islamists”, but this comes as no surprise if we read the following, by the same Alex Callinicos in April 2002, available here:

“…Of necessity, these movements unite a wide range of political forces in common action. The anti-capitalist movement prides itself on its unity in diversity (…)”

“The same pattern is to be found in many different countries. The Movement for Democratic Change in Zimbabwe brings together liberals, trade unionists, civil rights campaigners and revolutionary socialists who are united by their opposition to the Mugabe regime. (…)”

“The best example is the Stop the War Coalition (StWC). As already noted, this brings together people of diverse politics around a very clearly defined set of issues ‑ opposition to the ‘war on terrorism’ and to the associated attacks on civil liberties and on ethnic minorities. The very success of the StWC is a consequence of this narrowness of focus. Its initiators on both the revolutionary and the reformist left quite rightly resisted attempts to broaden it out or to divert it into other issues ‑ for example, opposition to Islamist terrorism ‑ that would have divided and paralysed the coalition.” [Our emphasis]

“The Anti Nazi League is another example of a classic united front. Its enormous success since its inception in 1977 has lain in the ANL’s single-minded focus on mass mobilisation against organised fascists. Attempts to transform it into a broad campaign against racism that, for example, opposes all immigration controls have always been rejected. Such a change would cut the ANL off from the very large numbers of people who believe, wrongly, that non-racist immigration controls are both possible and desirable but who are willing to fight the Nazis. An ANL with a broader anti-racist platform would have a much narrower base. Deprived of its focus on mass action against the Nazis, it would in all likelihood degenerate into yet another talking shop of the type that already litters the anti-racist scene in Britain.”

In the above quote we can see an important element that lies at the heart of the SWP’s opportunism towards Islamic fundamentalism. In order to create the widest possible base for any campaign they water it down to one element, which leads them into alliances with utterly reactionary forces.

Callinicos wrote on the Socialist Alliance in 2002 (when they still had big illusions in the Socialist Alliance, which has since then collapsed!):

“This explains the peculiarly hybrid character of the Socialist Alliance. It is hybrid programmatically in the sense that it leaves open the issue of reform and revolution. To adopt an explicitly revolutionary programme, as some groups within the Alliance argue, would be to slam the door on Labour Party supporters who have rejected Blairism but who have yet to break with reformism. Keeping left social democrats out of the alliance for the sake of revolutionary purity would leave potentially hundreds of thousands of disaffected Labour supporters to drift around waiting for the next revival of the Labour left, or (perhaps more likely) to withdraw into cynical apathy. Far better to draw them into common activity with revolutionaries within the Socialist Alliance, where they are much more likely to be won away from reformism.”

Here their opportunism emerges quite clearly. Callinicos explains how the SWP operate. Since then the Socialist Alliance collapsed but they continued with the same tactics inside Respect later on, making all kinds of concessions to Islamic fundamentalist prejudices. The most blatant example of this was what was later to emerge in Respect (before it split) when its main spokesperson George Galloway even came out against abortion to appease the reactionary religious bigots that were supporting him!

It is clear that the SWP’s position on this question degenerated further when they formed Respect together with other political forces, some of them clearly of a reactionary Islamic nature. They bent particularly to the extreme opportunism of George Galloway. What happened with Respect is a good example of where this kind of opportunist position can lead. In the end, when Respect split, the real Islamists stayed with Galloway and broke with the SWP! The SWP were left with very little as a result and in fact lost members to Galloway.

“Respect” appealed to the Muslims as if they were one homogeneous bloc and not as a minority with class divisions within it. Thus they pandered to Islamic prejudices in order not to frighten the more reactionary elements away. Thus the SWP became victims of their own opportunism. The SWP position is clearly that fundamentalist Islam, or political Islam as they call it, is an anti-imperialist movement which should be supported both in the Middle East and in the advanced capitalist countries. The way they present it in their texts reflects the fact that at the back of their minds they feel a certain embarrassment at adopting such opportunist positions. Their behaviour in practice is another matter.

The method is one whereby very diverse political tendencies, from socialists to reactionary Islamic fundamentalists, are brought together around one single issue, and the “socialists” refrain from raising issues that might disturb the sensitivities of the fundamentalists. Instead of winning Islamists to socialist ideas what we have here is socialists prettifying the fundamentalists and opportunistically adapting to them.

In trying to justify their position the SWP try to use the authority of Lenin and the Bolsheviks. In the December 2003 issue of Socialist Review Dave Crouch wrote an article, ‘Bolsheviks and islam: religious rights’. This is an attempt to depict the present SWP’s opportunist adaptation to Islamic fundamentalism as a continuation of Bolshevik traditions.

Crouch reassures us that “atheism was never included in the Bolsheviks’ programme”, when in actual fact the programme of the Bolsheviks had a special section on religion and also dealt with anti-religious propaganda. The SWP leaders steer very clear of going into the question of religious beliefs and prejudices.

Theory of the permanent revolution

The question which has to be answered is this: what lies behind the justification of the SWP’s deviation or what is at the root of its position towards fundamentalism? The SWP considers itself as a Marxist, Leninist and Trotskyist internationalist organisation:

“Internationalism is at the heart of any genuine socialist politics. Capitalism is a world system, and can only be effectively challenged by an international revolutionary movement. The founders of the revolutionary socialist tradition played a leading role in such movements – Marx in the International Working Men’s Association, and Lenin and Trotsky in the Communist International.” (The SWP’s official web site).

“The central theme of Trotsky’s theory remains as valid as ever: the proletariat must continue its revolutionary struggle until it is triumphant the world over. Short of this target it cannot achieve freedom” (Permanent Revolution by Tony Cliff. First published in International Socialism Journal, first series, number 12, spring, 1963).

Before dealing with the SWP’s revision of the theory of permanent revolution and their stance in regard to Islamic fundamentalism, which is directly derived from this revisionist position, the actual concept of the permanent revolution has to be examined.

The theory of permanent revolution was originated by Trotsky based on the experience of the 1905 revolution (written in The Permanent Revolution and Results and Prospects), and became the basis of the October 1917 revolution in Russia which simultaneously abolished the semi-feudal semi-capitalist regime of the Tsar and expropriated the bourgeoisie and the landlords.

The actual living experience of the Russian revolution contradicted a belief that had been held by many Marxists up till then. Marxists such as Kautsky and Plekhanov believed that only advanced industrial countries were ready for socialist revolution. They argued that countries would achieve workers’ power in strict conformity with the stage to which they had advanced as a social formation and technologically. Backward countries could see their future image mirrored in the advanced countries. Only after a long process of industrial development and a transition through a parliamentary bourgeois regime could the working class mature enough to pose the question of socialist revolution. Lenin also saw the forthcoming revolution as bourgeois, but he went a step further than the others in understanding the reactionary nature of the Russian bourgeoisie before it had even come to power, and hence the need for an independent policy of the working class.

All the Russian Social Democrats – Mensheviks as well as Bolsheviks – believed that Russia was approaching a bourgeois revolution, resulting from a conflict between the productive forces of capitalism on the one hand, and autocracy, landlordism, and other surviving feudal structures on the other. However, the Mensheviks concluded that the bourgeoisie would necessarily lead the revolution, and would take political power into their own hands. They thought that the Social Democrats should support the liberal bourgeoisie in the revolution (form the left tendency of it), at the same time defending the special interests of the workers within the framework of capitalism by struggling to achieve social reforms and minimum demands.

Lenin and the Bolsheviks agreed that the revolution would be bourgeois in character and that its aim would not pass the limits of a bourgeois revolution.

“The democratic revolution will not extend beyond the scope of bourgeois social-economic relationships… This democratic revolution in Russia will not weaken but will strengthen the domination of the bourgeoisie.” (Lenin: Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution, 1905).

However, after the revolution of February 1917 Lenin discarded this view. In September 1914, he was still writing that the Russian revolution must limit itself to three fundamental tasks:

“the establishment of a democratic republic (in which equality of rights and full freedom of self-determination would be granted to all nationalities), confiscation of the estates of the big landowners, and application of the eight-hour day.”

Where Lenin fundamentally differed from the Mensheviks was in his insistence on the independence of the labour movement from the liberal bourgeoisie and on the need to carry the bourgeois revolution through to victory against their resistance. In opposition to the Menshevik-sponsored alliance between the working class and the liberal bourgeoisie – Lenin called for an alliance of the working class with the peasantry. Where the Mensheviks expected a government composed of liberal bourgeois ministers after the revolution, Lenin envisaged a coalition comprised of the workers’ party and a peasant party, a “democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasantry”, in which the peasant party would have the majority. The “democratic dictatorship” would establish a republic, expropriate the large landowners and enforce the eight-hour day. Thereafter the peasantry would cease to be revolutionary, would become upholders of property and of the social status quo, and would unite with the bourgeoisie. The industrial proletariat, in alliance with the proletarian and semi-proletarian village population, would then become the revolutionary opposition, and the temporary phase of the “democratic dictatorship” would give way to a conservative bourgeois government within the framework of a bourgeois republic.

Trotsky was as convinced as Lenin that the liberal bourgeoisie could not carry out any revolutionary task consistently, and that the agrarian revolution, a fundamental element in the bourgeois revolution, could only be carried out by an alliance of the working class and peasantry. But he disagreed with Lenin about the possibility of an independent peasant party, arguing that the peasants were too sharply divided amongst themselves between rich and poor to be able to form a united and independent party of their own.

In Results and Prospects in response to Lenin’s formulation he wrote:

“For this reason there can be no talk of any sort of special form of proletarian dictatorship in the bourgeois revolution, of democratic proletarian dictatorship (or dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry). The working class cannot preserve the democratic character of its dictatorship without refraining from overstepping the limits of its democratic programme. Any illusions on this point would be fatal. They would compromise Social Democracy from the very start.”

“…it will be clear how we regard the idea of a ‘proletarian and peasant dictatorship’. It is not really a matter of whether we regard it as admissible in principle, whether ‘we do or do not desire’ such a form of political co-operation. We simply think that it is unrealisable…All the experience of history,…shows that the peasantry is completely incapable of playing an independent role. The proletariat grows and strengthens together with the growth of capitalism. In this sense, the development of capitalism signifies the development of the proletariat toward the dictatorship. But the day and hour when the power passes into the hands of the proletariat depend directly not upon the state or the productive forces, but upon the conditions of the class struggle, upon the international situation, finally, upon a series of subjective factors: tradition, initiative, readiness for struggle …”

“In an economically backward country, the proletariat can come to power sooner than in the economically advanced countries. In 1871 it had consciously taken into its hands the management of social affairs in petty bourgeois Paris – in truth only for two months – but it did not for one hour take power in the robust capitalist centres of England and the United States. The conception of some sort of automatic dependence of the proletarian dictatorship upon the technical forces and resources of the country is a prejudice derived from an extremely over-simplified “economic” materialism. This view has nothing in common with Marxism. The Russian revolution, in our opinion, creates such conditions under which the power can pass over to the proletariat (and with a victorious revolution it must) even before the policy of bourgeois liberalism acquires the possibility to bring its state genius to a full unfolding.”

“The proletariat grows and strengthens together with the growth of capitalism. In this sense, the development of capitalism signifies the development of the proletariat toward the dictatorship. But the day and hour when the power passes into the hands of the proletariat depend directly not upon the state or the productive forces, but upon the conditions of the class struggle, upon the international situation, finally, upon a series of subjective factors: tradition, initiative, readiness for struggle …”

“The Russian revolution, in our opinion, creates such conditions under which the power can pass over to the proletariat (and with a victorious revolution it must) even before the policy of bourgeois liberalism acquires the possibility to bring its state genius to a full unfolding.”

The 1917 revolution in Russia proved all of Trotsky’s assumptions to be correct. The bourgeoisie was counter-revolutionary; the industrial proletariat was the revolutionary class; the peasantry followed the working class; the anti-feudal, democratic revolution grew over immediately into the socialist; the Russian revolution did lead to revolutionary convulsions elsewhere (in Germany, Austria, Hungary, etc.). And finally, alas, the isolation of the socialist revolution in Russia led to its degeneration and downfall.

But this concept of the permanent revolution, which was previously accepted by SWP, was revised by Tony Cliff.

Theory of the permanent revolution as revised by the Tony Cliff

Tony Cliff, the SWP’s main theoretician, summed up the theory of the permanent revolution as follows:

“The basic elements of Trotsky’s theory can be summed up in six points:

1-A bourgeoisie which arrives late on the scene is fundamentally different from its ancestors of a century or two earlier. It is incapable of providing a consistent, democratic, revolutionary solution to the problem posed by feudalism and imperialist oppression. It is incapable of carrying out the thoroughgoing destruction of feudalism, the achievement of real national independence and political democracy. It has ceased to be revolutionary, whether in the advanced or backward countries. It is an absolutely conservative force.

2-The decisive revolutionary role falls to the proletariat, even though it may be very young and small in number.

3-Incapable of independent action, the peasantry will follow the towns, and in view of the first five points, must follow the leadership of the industrial proletariat.

4-A consistent solution of the agrarian question, of the national question, a break-up of the social and imperial fetters preventing speedy economic advance, will necessitate moving beyond the bounds of bourgeois private property. “The democratic revolution grows over immediately into the socialist, and thereby becomes a permanent revolution.”

5-The completion of the socialist revolution “within national limits is unthinkable … Thus, the socialist revolution becomes a permanent revolution in a newer and broader sense of the word; it attains completion only in the final victory of the new society on our entire planet.” It is a reactionary, narrow dream, to try and achieve “socialism in one country”.

6-As a result, revolution in backward countries would lead to convulsions in the advanced countries.”

He then questions the relevance of the permanent revolution in this way:

“While the conservative, cowardly nature of a late-developing bourgeoisie (Trotsky’s first point) is an absolute law, the revolutionary character of the young working class (point 2) is neither absolute nor inevitable…up to now experience has shown both the strength of revolutionary urges amongst industrial workers in the emergent nations, and their fatal weaknesses. An automatic correlation between economic backwardness and revolutionary political militancy does not exist”.

“Once the constantly revolutionary nature of the working class, the central pillar of Trotsky’s theory, becomes suspect, the whole structure falls to pieces. His third point is not realised, as the peasantry cannot follow a non-revolutionary working class, and all the other elements follow suit. But this does not mean that nothing happens…”

“Those forces which should lead to a socialist, workers’ revolution according to Trotsky’s theory can lead, in the absence of the revolutionary subject, the proletariat, to its opposite, state capitalism. Using what is of universal validity in the theory and what is contingent (upon the subjective activity of the proletariat), one can come to a variant that, for lack of a better name, might be called the ‘Deflected, state capitalist, Permanent Revolution.'”

“In the same way as the 1905 and 1917 revolutions in Russia and that of 1925-27 in China were classic demonstrations of Trotsky’s theory, Mao’s and Castro’s rise to power are classic, the purest, and most extreme, demonstrations of ‘Deflected Permanent Revolution”.”

It is interesting to note the formulation that, “Once the constantly revolutionary nature of the working class, the central pillar of Trotsky’s theory, becomes suspect, the whole structure falls to pieces.” Here the lack of a revolutionary leadership, a revolutionary party like Lenin’s Bolshevik party, is confused with the lack of “revolutionary nature” of the working class. Once one goes down this road utter confusion is the end result.

In conclusion Tony Cliff writes:

“For revolutionary socialists in the advanced countries, the shift in strategy means that while they will have to continue to oppose any national oppression of the colonial people unconditionally, they must cease to argue over the national identity of the future ruling classes of Asia, Africa and Latin America, and instead investigate the class conflicts and future social structures of these continents. The slogan of ‘class against class’ will become more and more a reality.” (Permanent Revolution by Tony Cliff. First published in International Socialism journal, first series, number 12, spring, 1963).

In a nutshell, Tony Cliff argues that, Leon Trotsky’s Permanent Revolution is outdated because the “revolutionary character of the working class is neither absolute nor inevitable… Once the constantly revolutionary nature of the working class, the central pillar of Trotsky’s theory, becomes suspect, the whole structure falls to pieces.” And a new force, the “intelligentsia” will “fill the social and spiritual vacuum”! And the task of “revolutionary socialists in the advanced countries” would be to “cease to argue over the national identity of the future ruling classes of Asia, Africa and Latin America”!

In other words, Tony Cliff very clearly announces the centrality of working class in the anti-capitalist movement as null and void! And shifts towards defending the petty bourgeoisie leadership such as Maoist or Stalinist “intelligentsia” in “Asia, Africa and Latin America”.

This “new” line is not only a break from the traditional Trotskyist position in the permanent revolution, but it is a revision of Marxism as well.

Trotsky’s theory was a development, application and expansion of Marx’s analysis of the 1848 revolution. Even before that revolution, the Communist Manifesto had predicted that because of the ‘advanced conditions’ and ‘developed proletariat’ of Germany, ‘The bourgeois revolution in Germany’ would be ‘but the prelude to an immediately following proletarian revolution’. (Marx, Selected works, Vol 1, London, 1942, p 241). And after the defeat of 1848 Marx stated that, faced with the incapacity of the bourgeoisie to carry out the anti-feudal revolution, the working class had to struggle for the growth of the bourgeois revolution into the proletarian, and of the national revolution into the international revolution. In an address to the Central Council of the Communist League (March 1850) Marx said:

“While the democratic petty bourgeois wish to bring the revolution to a conclusion as quickly as possible and with the achievement at most of the above demands, it is our interest and our task to make the revolution permanent, until all more or less possessing classes have been displaced from domination, until the proletariat has conquered state power, and the association of the proletarian, not only in one country but in all the dominant countries of the world, has advanced so far that competition among the proletarians of these countries has ceased and that at least the decisive productive forces are concentrated in the hands of the proletarians.”

And Marx ended his address with the phrase: ‘their (the workers’) battle-cry must be: the permanent revolution!’ (K Marx, Selected works, London, 1942, Vol III, pp 161-168.

Tony Cliff fails to understand that the struggle of Trotsky and Marx against the petty bourgeoisie in defence of the proletarian revolution was based on a long-term strategy and its objective perspective, and not a tactical issue for a short period. Tony Cliff’s interpretation of Trotsky’s permanent revolution is totally false.

Trotsky argued that because of the weakness and reactionary nature of the bourgeoisie in Russia, the belated bourgeois democratic tasks of the revolution (such as land reform, democratic rights, the question of forming a republic etc.), as well as the socialist tasks (such as workers’ control, planned economy etc,), both fall on the shoulders of the revolutionary proletariat. Indeed, during the Russian October Revolution the bourgeois democratic tasks were completed in a few months. But those socialists tasks related to the revolutionary transition of society into a socialist one (even though they did not eventually materialise) opened up an era of “permanent revolution”: not in the sense of the transition “from the democratic revolution to the socialist”, but in the sense of the revolutionary process of transition to socialism itself and the need for the expansion of the revolution internationally (based on two other aspects of Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution).

In other words, what Trotsky meant was that the two sets of tasks (bourgeois democratic and socialist) will be achieved with one leadership (the proletariat). There is no Chinese wall between the first and second set of tasks. There is no change of leadership in carrying out these combined tasks. Furthermore, the theory of “uneven and combined development” indicates that the two sets of tasks facing underdeveloped countries must in fact themselves be combined historically. This means that, one cannot separate out the two types of tasks into two historical sets and then claim that the first set must be resolved completely before history is ready for the second set (as in the Stalinist two stage theory of revolution). In the epoch of imperialism achieving the belated democratic tasks needs the destruction of capitalist property relations.

Furthermore, when Trotsky talks about “bourgeois revolution”, what he means is that the tasks of the revolution are “bourgeois” (tasks that were traditionally achieved under the leadership of the bourgeoisie in the 18th and 19th centuries). Trotsky did not mean that this is a “stage” during which the bourgeoisie or an “intelligentsia” wing of it will remain in power (because of the weakness of the proletariat); and that the “communists” should defend it until the proletariat becomes stronger in the next stage! On the contrary, it means that what guarantees the accomplishment of the bourgeois democratic tasks is the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat. And if for whatever reason the proletariat is weak and not ready to take power the task of the revolutionaries is not to follow the dubious “intelligentsia”! The task of revolutionary Marxists is to patiently work towards strengthening the proletariat by daily intervention amongst them. The “get rich quick” policies, belongs to petty bourgeois and opportunist trends within the workers’ movement.

Tony Cliff like any other opportunist petty bourgeois tendencies within the workers’ movement, instead of helping the working class to achieve their historical and objective tasks, becomes tired of long term and patient class struggle and promotes illusions in the petty bourgeois “intelligentsia” leadership. Tony Cliff end sup by de facto denying the centrality of the workers’ perspective of carrying out a socialist revolution, by revising the theory of the permanent revolution. By doing so he in practice breaks with revolutionary Marxism.

December 2008

[This article is based on the interventions of comrade Maziar Razi at the IMT World Congress, in Barcelona, August 2008. The article has been written for Marxist.com.]

I have in front of me the on-line edition of “The Hindustan Times”, which is reporting quoting chairperson of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan , Asma Jahangir , that Salima Hashmi , eminent Pakistani painter and teacher of Art has been arrested by Pakistani authorities following her protest against emergency rule in Pakistan. Mrs Hashmi is daughter of greatest of Urdu poets and revolutionary Faiz Ahmad Faiz. Faiz himself was arrested many times and had to live in exile for a long period. Hashmi and her family faced similar situation in 80s as well under the dictatorship of neo-fascist General Zia ul Haq. While admiring Hashmi’s courage , i am forced to take up the issue of Art and Revolution. This question has been of monumental importance in Modern Aesthetics.I have seen some where a quote from Salima Hashmi regarding this question , it is stated as :

“The objective of art is to give life a shape and though artists cannot change the world they can, through their work, give flight to imagination; they can give you the direction”

At a glance , it appears very appropriate but it is an expression of the fundamental flaw on part of the Leftist Artists and theorists of Modern Art, in understanding the nature of Art and Revolution. The above quote unfortunately pre supposes the Metaphysical dichotomy between “Mental” and “Physical labor” thus legitimizing the very system of thought and action which the Left intends to over throw. “The Artist” because of his or hers Intellectual ability presumes himself or herself either superior or separate from the People. The relationship such Artist develops with the people is thus the “relationship of separation”.

When such an Artist is a Leftist the problem becomes profound because now the Artist want to associate himself or herself with “the People”. now his role become that of a “Leader” or a “source of Guidance”. This always leads to unfortunate results because this position falls in the trap of Ideology. Instead of People making History , its the Idea that is driving the History: Ideology becomes the motor of History and not the People. Result is firstly a Phase of development of “Political statements” as “Art”, one that lacks the very spirit of Art and Aesthetics and Secondly a “Phase of Disillusionment” from Politics, left and People it self because of the “betrayals” “the failures” etc

If we look at the history of modern Arts , we see the proof of the above phenomenon, the monstrous and barbaric junk that was created in name of “Socialist Realism” in Soviet Union and Eastern Block was an example of the first phase, when Artists sacrificed their very being to dictatorships , this Art that was neither socialist, nor Realist. It was not even Art, rather it was accepting genocide in name of Revolution.

Here Politics was wrongly understood as “Party bureaucracy” , who were supposedly the motor of history! The thinkers , ideologues “guiding’ the people! Whole Art had to be People friendly only if its created on orders of bureaucracy! The whole “system of thought” was reversed! People are motor of history, Party is driven by the People , Ideas are created by People, they are expression of Matter it self, its various trends and contradictions. Party cant guide the people , it has to be expression of People!

Appearance of post modern Art is the example of the second phase , the Suicide Phase, Left dying in Nihilistic frenzy , but sticking to its fundamental error! Accepting the fact of dichotomy of “Mental” and “Manual” labor. This is a Fact in the logical world. But for a Socialist a “FACT” is not enough. For Socialism has always been about challenging FACTS .

Art is Revolutionary within itself, it does Not needs an external approval for being Revolutionary, Since Modernity , Art’s fate has been sealed with the Revolution. Every “Artistic Movement” is a rebellion in itself. A Revolt against the Reality itself!

Leon Trotsky , the Marxist revolutionary wrote on this very question :

Generally speaking, art is an expression of man’s need for a harmonious and complete life, that is to say, his need for those major benefits of which a society of classes has deprived him. That is why a protest against reality, either conscious or unconscious, active or passive, optimistic or pessimistic, always forms part of a really creative piece of work. Every new tendency in art has begun with rebellion. Bourgeois society showed its strength throughout long periods of history in the fact that, combining repression, and encouragement, boycott and flattery, it was able to control and assimilate every “rebel” movement in art and raise it to the level of official “recognition.”

Art cannot be separate from Society and Artist does Not exist beyond the sphere of “the People”. Every crisis of Society is the Crisis of Art, since the decline of bourgeoisie and Capitalism the society is dying and rotting, so is the Art. Revival of Art is in Revival of the Society, sealing its fate with Revolution. Going again to Trotsky who wrote:

“It is a crisis which concerns all culture, beginning at its economic base and ending in the highest spheres of ideology. Art can neither escape the crisis nor partition itself off. Art cannot save itself. It will rot away inevitably – as Grecian art rotted beneath the ruins of a culture founded on slavery – unless present-day society is able to rebuild itself. This task is essentially revolutionary in character. For these reasons the function of art in our epoch is determined by its relation to the revolution”

So , i raise my glass to Faiz’s daughter , her courage and conviction, but we must always question our selves, to save Art we must save the Society, and Society cannot be saved when Artist have “Relationship of Separation” with the people.  This separation is a Logical Fact but Socialists learn to defy Logic, Leon Trotsky and Andre Breton gave this dialectical formula in their “Manifesto of Surrealism

Our aims:

The independence of art — for the revolution.

The revolution — for the complete liberation of art!”